Blankets are shown protecting delicate shrubs from late spring frost freeze, demonstrating the correct method for protecting plants from cold damage. (Special to The Commercial)
FAYETTEVILLE — Freeze warnings posted across northern and western Arkansas are a sign that home gardeners need to take action, Berni Kurz, Washington County extension staff chair or the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said Friday.
The National Weather Service issued a freeze warning through 10 a.m. Saturday for Benton, Crawford, Carroll, Franklin, Madison, and Washington counties. A freeze warning was in effect through 9 a.m. Sunday for Baxter, Boone, Cleburne, Conway, Faulkner, Fulton, Garland, Independence, Izard, Johnson, Logan, Marion, Newton, Perry, Pike, Pope, Scott, Searcy, Sebastian, Sharp, Stone, Van Buren, White and Yell counties.
Jefferson County is not included in the freeze warnings. The National Weather Service forecast predicts low temperatures of 37 degrees on Friday night, 36 degrees on Saturday night and 36 degrees on Sunday night for the Pine Bluff area.
The cold temperatures are not expected to affect forages or winter wheat. Home gardens are a different story.
“This is going to be our first killing frost,” said Kurz. “Our lawns look green now, but come Monday, they’re not going to be green anymore. This is the first big freeze of the season.”
Northwest Arkansas has seen spotty frosts this fall, but nothing fatal to most gardens.
Kurz said he was called by a client Friday morning who had two or three 100-foot-long rows of corn that he was growing for the family. The grower waited to plant until the severe summer heat broke, gambling that the fall would be mild. The corn was beginning to tassel.
“He may have brown stalks come tomorrow morning,” Kurz said, adding the grower would probably sacrifice some hay bales in the way the Florida citrus growers use smudge pots to keep the freezing temperatures at bay.
For home gardeners who have vegetables left in the plots, “this is going to be the heaviest frost of the season so far and it will take more protection than in the past spotty frosts,” Kurz said. “Here, we’re going to get into the mid 20s and sheets over tomatoes aren’t going to work.
“You’re going to have bruised looking tomatoes that will freeze on the surface,” he said. “With tomatoes, bell peppers and all those other things with fruit on them, it’s time to harvest. It’s time to make green tomato relish or fried green tomatoes.”
Jason Kelley, extension wheat specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said he didn’t expect the weekend’s anticipated freeze to affect the emerging winter wheat crop.
As of Monday’s report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, 18 percent of the state’s winter wheat has emerged, with 36 percent planted.
“It’s been nice and warm and the wheat has been coming up pretty quick,” he said. “The cold will just slow it down and take a little longer to come up.”
For more information about crop production, contact your county extension office or visit www.uaex.edu, or Arkansascrops.com.